Make ‘The Na­tional’ more news, less show

De­ci­sion to re­place The Pas­tor with four co-an­chors seen as ex­cit­ing new format by CBC

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - OPINION - Alan Hol­man Alan Hol­man is a free­lance jour­nal­ist liv­ing in Char­lot­te­town. He can be reached at: achol­man@pei.east­link.ca

The Pas­tor has left the pul­pit. It has taken a long time, but Peter Mans­bridge has fi­nally stepped down as the an­chor of the CBC’s The Na­tional, and chief cor­re­spon­dent of the CBC News Ser­vice.

His leave-tak­ing oc­curred dur­ing a July 1st broad­cast from Par­lia­ment Hill cel­e­brat­ing the coun­try’s 150th birth­day. For some view­ers it was dif­fi­cult to tell whether the broad­cast was about the coun­try’s sesqui­cen­ten­nial, or about Mr. Mans­bridge’s 49-year-ca­reer at the CBC.

He spent 29 years of those years as host of The Na­tional where his avun­cu­lar pres­ence prompted the Globe and Mail’s tele­vi­sion critic to la­bel him, The Pas­tor. He wasn’t just a news­reader, as chief cor­re­spon­dent he had a great in­flu­ence on the news ser­vice and the sto­ries that made it to air on the CBC’s pri­mary news­cast.

In the many sto­ries and cri­tiques of his role at the CBC, few have noted that un­der Mr. Mans­bridge, The Na­tional went from be­ing the most watched tele­vi­sion news­cast in the coun­try, with a nightly au­di­ence well in ex­cess of 1,000,000, to now, with only a half mil­lion view­ers, The Na­tional is the least watched of the coun­try’s three ma­jor tele­vi­sion news­casts.

This fail­ure to hold The Na­tional’s au­di­ence does not rest en­tirely on the shoul­ders of Mr. Mans­bridge, but given his in­flu­ence within the news ser­vice and with CBC man­age­ment, he played a role. Us­ing the ef­fect of the in­ter­net as an ex­cuse for this loss doesn’t hold a lot of wa­ter given that the nightly news­cast on CTV still at­tracts nearly a mil­lion view­ers a night, and Global tele­vi­sion went from no au­di­ence to more 600,000 view­ers a night.

Un­for­tu­nately, in­ept CBC man­age­ment al­lowed Mr. Mans­bridge to be­come more im­por­tant than the news of the day. The news­cast tried to do too many things. Among oth­ers it be­came pro­lif­er­ated with pan­els, all moder­ated by The Pas­tor.

The de­ci­sion to re­place The Pas­tor with a cast of four coan­chors can be seen as an ex­cit­ing new format (the CBC’s pre­ferred view), the in­abil­ity of one per­son to fill Mr. Mans­bridge’s shoes (the pop­u­lar view) or CBC man­age­ment’s fail­ure to de­ter­mine just what it wants The Na­tional to be.

Peter Mans­bridge told the world he was re­tir­ing last Septem­ber, that his last broad­cast would be on July 1. Yet, with all that lead time, the CBC didn’t an­nounce his re­place­ment(s) un­til Aug. 1 and the four-host news­cast doesn’t start un­til Nov. 6.

For many Cana­di­ans, sum­mer ends af­ter Labour Day and the beat of their lives changes when school opens. One might have ex­pected the CBC to rec­og­nize this and try to plug the new news­cast into this chang­ing rhythm. By de­lay­ing, it runs the risk of peo­ple tun­ing in and see­ing the same-old-same-old and tun­ing out. Given the time it’s had, this two-month de­lay is in­ex­pli­ca­ble. Or, per­haps it is a sign there is still un­cer­tainty about the new format.

It is likely too late, and a sac­ri­lege to sug­gest, that in this the vaunted dig­i­tal age, the CBC in­stead of look­ing to the fu­ture for the cre­ation of its new show - it should look to its past when it was the leader in the broad­cast news field.

Look back to the time when the news­cast was a tight halfhour com­pi­la­tion of what hap­pened that day. Back when the an­chor ac­tu­ally sat in a stu­dio and in­tro­duced the re­ports from re­porters in the field. Back to when there were more thought and re­sources de­voted to the gath­er­ing of the news, than to its pre­sen­ta­tion.

Even in this, the dig­i­tal age, many peo­ple who use their com­put­ers to keep abreast of the times uti­lize what are termed, ‘ag­gre­ga­tors,’ such as Na­tional Newswatch, an ag­gre­ga­tion of news sto­ries lumped to­gether in one site.

The CBC should strive to make The Na­tional a tight halfhour news­cast that be­comes the pub­lic’s ‘ag­gre­ga­tor’ of choice, both in its on air, and in its dig­i­tal format.

FILE GRAPHIC

Pas­tor Peter Mans­bridge steps down as an­chor of CBC’s The Na­tional.

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